Photo/Illutration A teacher, wearing a face shield, gives a class at an elementary school in Matsusaka, Mie Prefecture, on May 18. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Green maple leaves, among early summer foliage, stand out for their exquisite beauty and have been appreciated from ancient times.

Yoshida Kenko, a poet and essayist, praised the splendor of young maple leaves in his “Essays in Idleness” in the 14th century.

“More lovely than all the flowers and red autumn leaves is the young maple of the fourth month (of the lunar calendar),” he wrote, as translated by George Bailey Sansom.

When I see young maple leaves stretching out into the sky, I cannot help but imagine them turning red in autumn. That may be why their green hues look all the richer and deeper to my eyes.

Speaking of changing colors, the season of “ajisai” hydrangea is drawing near.

The plant, sometimes known as “shichihenge” (seven metamorphoses), changes the color of its flowers from green to white and then to other, bright colors.

Suiha Watanabe (1882-1946) composed a haiku poem about its flowers.

Ajisai ya/ Shiro yori ideshi/ Asamidori (Hydrangea flowers/ Pale green/ Coming out of white)

It appears that the word “asamidori” also means “sky blue.”

I observed ajisai plants up close on May 23. They had patchworks of green, white and sky-blue flowers.

Changes are arriving in our monochrome daily lives dominated by the new coronavirus.

Reports about reopening amusement parks and zoos are coming from many parts of the country. Department stores and others are also restarting their operations.

But some other types of businesses are still subject to requests for voluntary closures or restrictions.

Changes in our lives still look like patchworks.

Particularly worrisome is school education. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, schools are preparing to reopen, some installing vinyl curtains in classrooms and securing plastic face shields for teachers.

In the northeastern Tohoku region, some schools are restarting competitions between sports clubs, including judo matches.

I pray that the day will soon come when the school education situation becomes the same color across the nation.

Dark shadows created by thick summer foliage are called “konoshitayami” (darkness under trees). Neither the evening dusk nor the darkness of the night, it is darkness under young leaves.

I hope these hard times will lead to bright, colorful days.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 24

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.